Name: Playground Martini & Tapas Bar
Address: 25 Garema Place, Canberra, ACT
Ph: 02 6262 7171
“The only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.”
It is rare to find such a ideal quotation in the opening paragraph of a Wikipedia article. But when I clicked on that link for “martini” and saw the H. L. Mencken quote, there was no other way I could start this piece.
When it comes to cocktails, the martini holds a special place. A few parts gin, one part vermouth, and a green olive or, if it is your want (as it is mine), a twist of lemon peel, stirred over ice. And that’s it.
A martini is about purity, with the vermouth serving only to enhance the flavour of the gin, and I am a purist when it comes to this classic of classics.
The Martini is one drink, not a genre.
Somehow people have got into the practice of calling anything served in a cocktail glass a “martini”, and I’m sorry, but this is wrong. While I can just accept the name for a Vodka Martini, and the Dirty Martini is also passable, that is where the line has to be drawn. If something has vodka, Chambord and pineapple it is not a martini of any type (nor do I see how it is French). As for tequila, coffee tequila, Kahlua and coffee? That’s not even close.
Perhaps I am being a pedant, but names are important. There are thousands of great cocktails in the world. What is wrong with giving them their own names? A martini is a martini. Why can’t we leave it at that?
Clearly the owners of Playground Martini & Tapas Bar disagree with me. With their “Martini” list of 14 drinks that are not at all martinis they fly in the face of my pedantry. In an act of petty rebellion I ordered a classic gin martini, not too dry, with a twist of lemon.
And it was fabulous. While they may not know how to define a martini, they definitely know how to make one. Clean and balanced, it was an ideal beginning to an evening, it’s inherent class somehow working in the faux-outdoor setting of the bar.
Thankfully, while the martini part is wrong, Playground is possibly the first place in Canberra that can justifiably call their food tapas. Perhaps the most misused word in the modern restaurant lexicon, tapas has somehow evolved to the point where, for many people, it just means “something small that you share”, or a glorified word for bar snack.
This is fair enough up to a point. It is food that is eaten in small serves, and it is meant to be eaten with alcohol. But these characteristics are common to styles of food all around the world. Izakaya food from Japan is the same concept, as is chichetti from Venice. No, to be tapas, it really should be Spanish.
When I bite through the fried crust of a ham hock croquette, the rich, creamy pork-flavoured white sauce exploding in my mouth, my mind turned to Barcelona. It was clear that this was tapas worthy of the name.
Generally the flavour combinations were Iberian classics, such as octopus, with chorizo and tomato in a wonderfully rich, smokey stew. I don’t know where they are sourcing their chorizo from, but it was packed with flavour. It shows the bland, rubbery sausage that stands in for the real thing in far too many restaurants for exactly what it is.
This same chorizo pops up in something that is in not in any way patatas bravas, but it glorious nevertheless. Crisp potato, chorizo and garlic oil, served simply and impossible not to like. Golden onion rings are all sweetness and crunch, without being at all greasy.
I started giggling when the dessert came out and the un-named “homemade tart” was revealed to be basically a brownie tart. This was a genius concept, and the richness of the chocolate held in very thin pastry made it delicious.
This was likeable food, which is exactly what you want from somewhere as relaxed as this. It’s loud, the decor is an eclectic collection of about five other bar concepts, and the waiters’ iPhone system to communicate to the kitchen seemed a little clunky early, but in many ways this added to the fun.
For those who, like me, boycott the non-martini list, you don’t have to worry as the wine list has some gems by the glass or bottle, with an Exopto Bozeto 2010 tempranillo working a charm alongside that chorizo.
Playground is bright, fun, fairly cheap, and delivering some of the best Spanish food, and best food to drink with, in Canberra. You will enjoy yourself.
With all that going for them, I can almost excuse the martini thing.